The River Kent flows through the heart of the town of Kendal and has the highest level of protection afforded to a river in Britain, being both a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation. It is also just outside of the Lake District National Park, and is often billed as the “Gateway to the Southern Lakes”. A number of features that the river Kent has been designated for are likely to be impacted by Kendal Flood Risk Management Scheme.
The Letter below is from the Kendal Civic Society to the Westmorland Gazette. We felt it deserved a wider audience.
THE KENDAL FLOOD SCHEME
The Kendal Civic Society has always been strongly opposed to the current flood scheme in Kendal and we raised our objections at the time of the planning application. In this, we acted hand in hand with the Friends of the Lake District and Historic England and many other organisations. We still believe that the current scheme is fundamentally flawed - that common sense as well as the environmental science dictated that the upstream measures should be carried out first and that the impact of these be incorporated into the computer modelling which is driving the design of the walls and engineering works in Kendal. We believe that this would very likely have meant a less intrusive, more environmentally friendly solution and one which was more likely to prevent another Storm Desmond flood, something that the current scheme does not do. It might have avoided the felling of so many mature trees and the brutal engineering works in the heart of the town which will enclose the river and destroy the open aspect of the riverside. Instead, the Environment Agency with the support of SLDC has pressed forward simply in order to meet an arbitrary funding deadline.
We do, however, accept that this argument has been lost.
Now that physical work is commencing we feel that this is the time to comment further on the details of the proposals, as far as they can be ascertained. Our intention is to try to mitigate the worst aspects of the scheme and try to ensure that less damaging options are taken if possible in the Conservation Area. We have recently tried to enter into a dialogue with the Environment Agency to express our concerns directly to the design team but so far without success - we are not a formal consultee. Our response has been limited to making specific comments on aspects of the scheme as details have been published through the planning process, including most recently the preliminary details of the metal railings and coping details (about which we have serious reservations).
Our main concern is the way in which the detailed design of the interventions in the Conservation Area is apparently being decided. We are, frankly, not confident that the process is in the hands of designers with the appropriate insight, skill and authority to handle the design in this highly sensitive environment, despite best intentions. Alteration work in Conservation Areas requires particular sensitivity and understanding but it seems to us that this scheme is still led, as it has always been, by the flood engineers who have other priorities. The architectural profession and the landscape architectural profession have specialists who regularly deal with such matters. sometimes called ‘Conservation Architects’ or ‘Conservation Landscape Architects’. There are even particular qualifications and accreditation that apply and which are usually insisted on when public money is at stake in such circumstances. From the evidence to date, we are not convinced that sufficient use is currently being made of these design resources. For example, is there an experienced and properly qualified Conservation Architect or Conservation Landscape Architect leading the design work in the Conservation Area and answerable for the details? If not, why not? It may not, even now, be too late to address this.
The list of issues for such a design team leader is quite a long one - the specification of the new stonework and particularly the related details such as the copings; the final details of the new railings and how the important existing Webster railings and Rishton railings are incorporated; the details of how the existing stone will be re-used; the improvement of the ugly glazed screens; the details of the ground surfaces; the details of how the existing features such as the laundry steps and the fountain will be incorporated; the details of the new bridge landing areas; the design and selection of the street furniture; the design of the artificial lighting and the commissioning and installation of the promised works of art.
It is probably too late to stop this dreadful scheme in its tracks - our preferred course of action - but if anything can be done even at this late stage to improve the quality of the details it seems to us that it will require a change in approach on the part of the Environment Agency.
Valsesia, Piedmont; a paradise in the Northern Italian Alps. In winter, the snow-capped mountains draw skiers and mountaineers. In spring, as the snow melts, the valley’s rivers become a mecca for white water kayakers and fly fisherman. Drawn from around the world to their crystal-clear waters and bedrock rapids.
At the heart of this region lies Val Sorba and the village of Rassa. The village has only 67 residents (many of them not year-round) but is visited by over 10,000 tourists a year drawn to kayak, fish, or simply hike alongside the beautiful rivers. Rassa is famous amongst kayakers as the previous site of the Teva mountain games extreme kayaking race. But it is under threat from a Hydro Power Project.
On December 2nd the Planning and Access Committee of Snowdonia National Park discussed and then refused the planning permission for the Fallen Stock Collection site on the banks of the Afon Artro. Thanks to the excellent work of the local Cyfeillion Cwm Nantcol Friends group in their opposition to this development, other objecting NGOs including the Snowdonia Society and the Woodland Trust and to all our followers who took the time to write in, this river should be safe from the pollution risk it was facing, at least for now.
In a recent speech to business leaders the head of the Environment Agency (England’s main environmental regulator), James Bevan, has proposed using the opportunity presented by BREXIT to weaken the laws that supposedly protect England’s rivers. The Water Framework Directive (WFD).
Damaging floods are happening more and more often in our country – and we still aren’t tackling the problem properly.
Why is it such a serious problem? First, we’re still building new houses on floodplains. Since 2013, 84,000 new homes have been built that are categorised as ‘at risk’. That’s 1 in 10 of all homes built. And we’re going to build 11,400 more in the next 4 years on high risk land. These are areas which used to catch water and store it during heavy rain. Now, despite so-called ‘planning controls’, this water hits houses and roads to run off much faster down culverts and drains and into rivers. Instead of flood plains which slow down the flood peak by storing water, developed areas push it downstream faster, moving the problemsfurther down the catchment.
Second, climate change means more extreme weather. The UK expects a 10% increase in average rainfall by 2100 from 1985-2005, and in higher intensity rainfall events. We can expect more frequent flood peaks – and our communities aren’t ready.
Why do flood protection schemes fail?
Flood barriers – like the ones proposed in Kendal – can handle moderate flood peaks. But when they’re overtopped the water will run over into properties on the ‘protected’ side. It’s already happened in Cumbria during 2015’s storm Desmond in Carlisle, Keswick and Cockermouth. This winter it happened to communities on the river Severn.
With flooding happening more often, flood barriers will fail more often. In a storm Desmond scale event this will happen to the proposed barriers.
Slow the flow
The Environment Agency is still relying heavily on Kendal-style engineered flood defences, but there are better ways of doing it.
Slow the flow means using natural flood management. You hold the water on land upstream of flood-prone communities with planting and ponds, as well as the creation of temporary surface water retention systems. It has already worked in Yorkshire, and the Environment Agency know this. They’ve even written a guide for farmers on how to do it. But in 2017, only £15 million went to natural flood management, while the Kendal scheme is expected to cost £72m across three phases. We should spend that money on natural flood management, and add to temporary upstream water storage solutions. This requires taking the Pickering ideas and evolving them further to protect our communities.
This choice matters to all of us, throughout the country. Will we build ever higher walls? Keep pouring concrete into our rivers to try and control nature? Or work with nature, our communities and the resources we already have? Using approaches that are working from Pickering to New Zealand?
Now is the time for Kendal to choose. It can reject an outdated scheme that will fail under nature’s ever-higher floods. It can choose to slow the flow and tackle the problem further up the river using natural flood management techniques.
And we believe the choice is obvious – Kendal should set a path for the country to follow.
Sign our petition and join our calls for a rethink of the scheme.
Since the handover of the petition against the building of the Tumpen Dam on 3rd June things have moved forward on the campaign to preserve Tyrol largest remaining free-flowing river.
Legally the case against the Tumpen Dam has still not be resolved, the outstanding legal complaint by WWF Austria has recently been thrown out by the court. However, a complaint by the local community is still outstanding and is currently being handled by a court in Vienna. There is also recent evidence that the construction did not gain approval by the local community when the original construction permit was granted 10 years ago. Ötztal power plant lacks a municipal council decision.
The insulting of the WWF Austria representative, with Minister Josef Geisler referring to her as a "Widerwärtiges Luder / Disgusting Bitch" has led to widespread condemnation amongst the German-speaking press and the centre right party's coalition partners in government, the Greens (despite one of them being present at the time and saying nothing). Somewhat of a cultural phenomenon followed with Austrian satirists getting involved, drinks being named "Luders" in popular bars and even a fashion brand printing a T-shirt.
The real issue however was the revealing of the level of respect that the Tyrolean Government holds for environmental experts. And the continuing issue with hydropower projects in protected areas being pushed through against European Environmental Laws on the basis of "public benefit". A "public benefit" that has been ascertained through a purely political agreement with no consideration of ecological of social impacts.
The Tumpen Dam is far from the only hydro project to have construction started before all legal concerns are dealt with and in clear contravention of European Water Framework Directive. A huge new reservoir is being built on the Längentalbach resulting in the destruction of the stunning Längenental valley and the capturing over 80% of the catchments glacial run off.
1. Create structural clarity: The distribution of responsibilities in nature conservation and water management needs to be clarified: Nature conservation and water protection needs to be managed by a single department
2. Strengthen water protection: Permanent protection granted for all currently protected waterways and the free-flowing stretch of the Inn from Imst to Kirchbichl (without expiry date) in the Tyrolean Nature Conservation Act.
3. Stop excessive hydropower expansion plans: Many plants are still being planned in the ecologically best stretches of water. Although the state has drawn up a catalogue of criteria for hydropower, damage to nature continues without restrictions. Hydropower plants that are not recommended must lead to rejection in the future.
4. End political directives to the detriment of nature: Political influence on nature conservation to the detriment of nature must come to an end. Inglorious examples of this are the Lesachbach power plant and the Tumpen power plant.
5. Ensure public participation and fair procedures in accordance with the Aarhus Convention: No construction of controversial projects until all open legal questions have been clarified.
6. Design flood protection by working with nature: The commitment to ecological flood protection must be taken seriously. Our rivers need more space. Following the example of Lech, correspondingly large projects on the Inn and other watercourses should also be implemented.
7. Create glacier protection without exceptions: The country must commit itself to the unconditional protection of glaciers and protect the "soul of the Alps".
8. Restore the nature conservation fund: The curtailment of the funds of the only financing instrument for nature conservation must be corrected.
More than 60 Austrian scientists have also expressed their concerns about the advancement of hydropower in Austria in an open letter to the federal government. The signatories of the open letter, all experts in water ecology and biodiversity at several institutes in Austria, make it clear that an extension of hydroelectric power, which is not coordinated with the ecological goals, in particular the construction of new small hydroelectric power plants, is incompatible with sustainable development. The scientists agree that small hydroelectric power plants contribute little to energy supply due to their low performance and cause the disproportionately high environmental damage.
Dear Federal Minister Gewessler, BA, dear Mr. Vice Chancellor Mag. Kogler.
It is with great concern that we observe the advancement of hydropower as part of the expansion of renewable energies, especially in connection with the Renewable Energies Expansion Act (EAG).
As scientists from the fields of water ecology and biodiversity we are very alarmed. The recently published biodiversity strategy of the European Commission asks for a more sustainable use of renewable energy sources, which serves both to decarbonise the energy system and to counter the loss of biodiversity. It also asks for 25,000 kilometres of waterways to be converted back into free-flowing rivers - a clear commitment to renaturalization being the task of the 21st century. We have been trying for years to comply with the Water Framework Directive and to improve the ecological state of our waterways, which already suffer a variety of impairments.
The expansion of hydropower that is not coordinated with ecological objectives, in particular the construction of new small hydropower plants, contradicts the principle of sustainable development. This further aggravates the biodiversity crisis of our waterways. Their ecological status will deteriorate further rather than improve. We feel obliged to oppose this (as a) threat to our future.
In the past, thanks to green energy subsidies, new hydropower plants have been built also in protected areas and ecologically valuable waterways. Due to their little output, small hydropower plants contribute only an insignificant amount to the power supply, but cause disproportionately high ecological damage. The high degree of development of hydropower in Austria is already causing fragmentation of watercourses with over 5,200 constructions. The cumulative effect of multiple projects - that individually examined all appear environmentally sound - is strongly underestimated. In sum they impair water networks as habitat-connecting corridors and thus strongly affect the preservation of biodiversity. With increasing fragmentation and degradation of valuable habitat it will be impossible to halt, let alone reverse, the current trend of biodiversity loss.
Righteously, the current government programme states that the expansion of green energy is to be carried out under "observance of strict criteria with regard to ecology and nature conservation". We see a high risk potential in particular in the promotion of small scale hydropower and appeal to you urgently, to rethink their role within the framework. From the Green Party in particular we expect the integration of scientific expertise - as it is the case in climate sciences - into the design of frameworks that are relevant to water ecology. To only involve the energy industry, the social partners and the association of industrialists into the lawmaking process as of now is just not enough.
In conclusion, we would like to emphasise that we recognize and support the great importance of the decarbonization of Austria's energy supply. But the far-reaching transformation of the energy system must not aggravate the biodiversity crisis.
We urge you to contact the scientific experts. We want to contribute our expertise constructively, and we are also happy to work together with specialised nature conservation organisations.
The petition was received by LH-Stvin Ingrid Felipe and LH-Stv Joseph Geisler at Landhausplatz in Innsbruck.
As the WWF representative was discussing the impact that the continued construction of hydro schemes was having on Austrian river systems with LH-Stv Joseph Geisler he tried to interrupt her statement and when she continued Geisler turned to LH-Stvin Ingrid Felipe and described the WWF worker as a "Widerwärtiges Luder" (translation: "Disgusting Bitch").
The exchange highlights not only the stubbornness with which the Tyrolean Government pursues its' outdated energy policy, against both the advice of its' own environmental experts and European Environmental Law. But also the contempt with which it holds those who seek a greener future. The misogynistic and sexist treatment of a professional environmentalist working for a well respected international NGO by Geilser has rightly been treated as a scandal by the Austrian press.